Enough of the spin



Dear lovely people, hello!

As you know, if you've hung around here much, I'm naturally very optimistic. Also pretty positive. Which is why, I guess, when things are a tad grim, I go off the air. I'd prefer not to say anything rather than (a) lie and pretend everything is excellent or (b) confess everything's not excellent. It's not really our style. We spin the 'excellent' story almost by habit.

But it's been a bit of a tough month. 

It started with the chickens, I think. One day we had seventy fully grown (expensive to raise) free range chickens out in the paddock ready to go to the abattoir, and the next day the abattoir was closed down. And it's the only poultry abattoir anywhere around here. 

I spent a full day on the phone (while in the kitchen making biscuits for market) trying to find an alternative. I called the Department of Primary Industries and begged for help. I called every poultry processing place this side of Brisbane. No one wanted to stop their "lines" for a small number of hippy-raised free range poultry. The numbers were too small. The birds were too big. (That's what happens when they eat grass and run around and you don't kill them at six weeks old like the commerical producers, they grow big and healthy. Der.)

We faced the reality that out meat bird business was probably kaput, and we quickly cancelled our standing order for day old chickens with the hatchery, but we had seventy birds that needed processing yesterday, another seventy that were six weeks old and in the paddock and another seventy in the big brooder box under lights, one week old. How could we possibly process all those birds by hand?

So we called the old abattoir again, a little place we've really liked dealing with, all hand processing done by two very competent Greek ladies in aprons, and we asked if we could buy their equipment. 

We knew we wouldn't be able to legally sell our birds if they were processed here on the farm, so we tentatively set up some black market chicken contracts where customers agreed to buy our birds processed outside the system. We spent $800 on the equipment and more retreiving it, and Adam set it all up.

Meanwhile we were notified that the bulka bags of feed we'd been trying to get delivered for about three months were finally delivered into the Sydney warehouse. We haven't been able to justify buying a silo, but buying feed in 20kg bags is more expensive and very inefficient when you go through it at our rate. We went through a palava to find a commerical feed available by the ton and to sort out how to get it delivered into a shed on the farm, and right when the bottom had fallen out of the bird business, we get an unexpected delivery of thousands of dollars worth of feed. 

Did I mention the kids weren't all sleeping through the night and we were both chronically overtired at this point? And I had an awful cough that wouldn't go away? 

Anyway, Adam gets the equipment fired up and starts processing birds. He does a singularly awesome job, the birds look terrific and he's quick and the plucker in particular works like a dream. 

He does about sixteen of the first batch and I'm transferring them from the icebath into clean bags when I get a call from our hatchery telling me they've found a place that will process our birds. I stutter that that is impossible, I've called everyone, no one in a three-hour radius will do it (that's the limit we'll transport birds, they don't want to be in crates on the back of a truck for any longer than that.) They give me a phone number of a friend of a friend and ka-bam, we've got a family-run abattoir outside of Sydney that can take our birds. 

I run over to the dairy and tell Adam to stop processing, so we can process and sell the birds legally, we'll freeze those sixteen for our own use. 

Adam takes the birds up a couple of days later, we sell them all to a local restaurant and breathe a sigh of relief. Well I don't really sigh, because there's something a bit wrong with my chest and Adam finally marches me to the doctor. Turns out it was suspected whooping cough, and I'm already at the end of it and no longer infectious. I feel pretty crook. They give me some kind of steroids which don't really help and anyway, I've got another market to bake for. 

Then one of our pigs goes lame. Not just lame, but paralysed from the waist down. Neither of us have ever seen or heard anything like it, so we take a deep breath and call the vet. He says she has maybe 50% chance of recovery. He gives her an injection, and not very optimistically gives Adam six more syringes to inject over the next three days. We're worried about our pig. For the vegetarians out there this might seem hypocritical but we take the care and wellbeing of our animals very seriously. 

And meanwhile our car has blown up. The (uninsured) one which went through the flooded causeway last year, now insured, but not against a timing belt failure. I love the idea of running just one car but our lives being as they are, it's impractical. We live on a farm, I can't walk to the commerical kitchen, Adam needs a four wheel drive to move the chicken caravan. I make an appointment to talk to the bank about a car loan. 

While discussing car loans with the bank, I talk about our business plans, and commerical kitchen building plans, and exciting workshop running plans. The bank is enthusiastic and loves the plan, but suggests I really look at the profitable parts of the business in terms of loan repayments. The bikkies are not one of them. They're breaking even, but are not stong enough to get us a significant business loan. And I guess they're not central to what we're all about: growing and raising incredibly nutritious food and sharing it and talking about it. 

I'm on steroids that don't seem to be working and I'm chronically overtired and there's a ton of pig food on it's way on seven day terms and crows are killing the younger free range meat birds and there's commerical kitchen rent owing and everywhere I go people want to know where the biscuits are. 

I need a job. I called my friend Kirsten who was about to open a new business locally and asked if she needed any help. She wondered how it might work with the biscuit business and I said, biscuits schmiscuits. Or something. 

And so I started work with Kirst and it's so. much. fun. 

She's opening a place called The Schoolhouse, it's a cheese making place that also sells her locally grown tea. I'm working four days a week, baking mainly, morning teas, scones, crackers and oatcakes to go with the cheese. It's a gorgeous place, a beautiful fit-out, and I've always admired Kirst. And how lovely to get a paycheck.

Meanwhile Ad can concentrate on chickens and eggs and bees and vegies and we've got a bit of breathing space to plan a series of workshops that don't require an expensive commerical kitchen just at present. 

And after two days of injections, our pig got up and walked. And now she's bounding around with her sisters. 

The photo at the top is from 18 months ago, Tilly at a neighbour's farm with a neighbour's pig, before we had our own pigs, before we'd started the egg business, before we'd grown or sold our first meat bird, before we'd ever had a market stall, before we'd put up a fence or planted a carrot.

Only 18 months ago.

And besides that, I have no idea where my camera is.

First order of the day today, find my camera, and go take a photo of Adam's solution to the crows and our safe and sound little meat birds.


34 Comments on “Enough of the spin

November 19, 2012 at 8:42 am

I am so glad to hear that you are all right. I have been praying for you, during your ‘absence’, having an inkling that things must be difficult. No one is injured, your home is still standing, you are coping with life. Good for you! Carry on well, my dear. blessings!

November 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

šŸ™‚ xxx

Melissa Ostoja
November 19, 2012 at 8:52 am

Farming was NEVER easy, but you sound like you have had your fair share of a “rough trot”. Enough is enough I say! I am not religious, but if there is a divine being out there listening….. “These people have had enough for a while… Do you hear me? Give them a break!” There that should fix it… I can be pretty scary when I’m angry, trust me LOL!

You take a breather (not something that is easy for you) and get yourself fit and well again. That way you will live to fight another day.

November 19, 2012 at 8:54 am

Wow! Well, welcome back, it’s great to hear from you again. So glad to hear that you are enjoying your job, you must have needed some ‘me’ time! All the best..

Kirsty E
November 19, 2012 at 9:01 am

Fi, I hope you know that you are a truly amazing person. I really admire your strength, courage, dedication and conviction. There should be more people in the world like you. I wish I was one of them. xoxo.

November 19, 2012 at 9:05 am

Great to hear from you again. So glad you shared the hardships of the last month with us – helps the rest of us feel like we aren’t doing something wrong!!! Hope the next month is 2 steps forward. : )

Just Joyful
November 19, 2012 at 9:12 am

It is so good to have you back. I knew when you were gone for a longish period that things must have crashed a bit. And it sounds like you have had one of those times when things can make you question what you are doing.

But good on you for always looking for solutions that fit in with your philosophy of living! And another good thing from this – the help you get from like-minded people, or people who appreciate what you are doing, restores your faith in the world.

Good luck, and I really hope things are on the improve.

November 19, 2012 at 9:38 am

Been thinking of you in your absence (I’m the same, things go awful and I just go quiet). Thanks for the honesty, sometimes its all just so horribly hard!!! Well done on finding creative solutions, fingers crossed things get a bit easier and take care of you xxx Alison

November 19, 2012 at 9:50 am

Sounds like you’ve been in a pickle!
Susan R.

November 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

Get well and rested.
Sending good thoughts your way.

Ngo Family Farm
November 19, 2012 at 10:13 am

Just what I wanted to say, but Alison said it much better, so ditto her words šŸ™‚

November 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

Oh, my Lord! I am worn out after reading that post! So loved the way you tell it how it is, warts and all. You have had a time of it!
I do hope your whooping cough is getting better, be careful as it can recurr so take care.
I love hearing about your ventures and busy life so please, more posts of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Cheers – Joolz

Amanda @ mammajoy
November 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

Oh Fi! What a tale of despair! I most surely would have ran for the hills, having well and truly given up. But you haven’t so kudos to you my love. I’m so sorry to hear that things have been, quite frankly, just shit. šŸ™ I can relate to only wanting to write about the good times, the funny things, the things that are successful and make us feel good. The thing is though, is that life is never just all up and up. Success is sometimes hard to find and fleeting and I hope that you know that IT’S OKAY to share your bad times. Heck, I’ve had the crappiest year ever so you are certainly not alone! It’s so lovely to hear from you again and I hope this nasty cough buggers off and those bloody crows get shot by a wayward neighbour (surely not Adam, would he?) I’m all ears, tell us the good AND the bad! xx

November 19, 2012 at 11:21 am

Oh my! It never rains but it pours. I’m sorry to hear that things have been so bumpy of late. I can only imagine the stress, frustration and heartbreak behind your words. I hope things are on the up for you. All the best. xx

November 19, 2012 at 11:44 am

Oh Fiona! I’m so glad things are coming back together…As All Consuming says: Onwards!

November 19, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Crikey! How did I miss so much of that?! I’m sorry to hear about the whopping cough but it does explain why you were so sick for so very long šŸ™ I’ll call you in next few days šŸ™‚

lily boot
November 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

WoW! Wow! You poor old thing with the whooping cough – having a depressed respiratory system is exhausting. I am in awe of your ability to carry one. And the debacle with the abattoir and the chickens and the crows and the pigs and the bank …. oy! You’re a strong and wonderful woman. And – to me, the city girl – I think the closing down of the local abattoir epitomises what’s wrong with our food system and why what you’re doing is FANTASTIC and how much we need people like you growing our food! If I could come on over and cook you dinner and hang out your washing and read to your kids I would be there in a flash. As little comfort as it is, know that I am sending healing and energising thoughts your way and I talk to everyone about you and the wonderful contribution you are making to our food community. xxxx

November 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Oh my… that is enough to make me cry. I hope you are recovering well, am glad the pig is better, hope the crows piss off, and what in the heck did you ever do to Murphy to cop all that at once!!! I am in the middle of a busy-but-nothing-compared-to-your-drama period, one part of it involves deciding whether a friend and I can start up a business… thank you for opening my eyes to some of the challenges, and that working for someone else can sometimes be a blessing!

The Obstacle is the Path.

November 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Holly dooley!!! What a crazy time you have had. You guys are an inspiration!!!!!

Your job sounds ideal. Being paid to bake šŸ™‚

I hope your health is on mend. xxx

November 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Glad to hear that things are on the up for you all. It’s actually nice sometimes to hear the downs as well as the ups…makes the rest of us feel normal šŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing.

November 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Sounds like you have had your run of bad luck and now you are due for some good times. Hope you are feeling better soon too.

November 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

oh sheesh that sounds like a bad run of luck. I do hope you continue to feel better, awesome news about the job too.

November 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Sorry you’ve had such a rough time. With the cough and wakeful children too, no wonder you’ve been exhausted.
Hope everything goes a bit more smoothly now- you’ve had your fair share of challenges…

November 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Wow, what a read – I wish you all the very best from now and ever xx

Mel Vallel
November 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Wow Fi, I need a cup of tea and lie down after that. Time for a deep breath. After you get over the whooping cough of course xxxx

Merryl Chantrell
November 20, 2012 at 6:01 am

Oh my dear girl your sad post almost made me cry. I honestly feel for you and I thought I was the only one who oftentimes gets more than my fair share lumped on me. Obviously incorrect. By the time you read this I hope you are feeling much better. Sounds like a glimmer of light with your paid job and you doing something you enjoy.

Darren (Green Change)
November 20, 2012 at 7:27 am

I wondered where you’d been – through the wringer, it seems!

How amazing would it be if there was a mobile abattoir that could set up their truck on your property, and legally process all the birds (and pigs, sheep, goats, cows, etc) for you. There seems to be demand out there, but from talking to a guy that used to do it, all the government red tape makes it impossible.

I hope you’re back to full strength and sanity soon!

November 20, 2012 at 8:49 am

Ihad hooping cough. Bad news is that it takes about 6monhs for the cough to clear up and it will come back every year because it weakens your lungs. So good luck on that front šŸ™‚

November 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

Wow, your tales on the farm make my moans totally insignificant. Even through all this you manage to write and share your glass half full approach to life. I hope you get some breaks in the coming months and you get well. Truly what you write is a book in the making. I will keep positive thoughts coming your way.

Love to all

November 21, 2012 at 7:08 am

Oh. Gosh. Love and love, and more love, and if I could think of something that would make you laugh I’d say it, but then that just might make you cough and stuff. So just more love, for now. And some kind of help in February. And a laugh!

November 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Yay You are back. Sorry to hear not all has been fab though.

November 22, 2012 at 4:26 am

Oh Fi, what a rough recent time of it you’ve had. Farming really isn’t for the faint of heart is it? I’m in awe of your strength and ability to just get on with it and find solutions. Dreams are funny things, the fantasy of them never quite matches the reality. I suppose if we knew beforehand what the outcome would be and all the obstacles we’d meet along the way perhaps we’d never even try. I think the key is being flexible with what “living the dream” looks like and how it works on a practical level šŸ™‚ Glad things are picking up. Much love to you all xx

November 22, 2012 at 7:24 am

Sorry to hear you had a tough month. Looks like things are on the improve though. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures of your farming life, I love dropping by and hearing what you’re up to. I’d be so happy to buy some of your chickens off you (processed legally or not šŸ™‚ ) if you get stuck again not sure of logistics to Canberra though.

And I’m on a sourdough adventure at the moment too. My issue is with my starter, it’s making my bread taste like beer!

Aussie Mum
November 25, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Wow -sounds exhausting just reading all that. Hope the new job is going well and keeping you all afloat for the time being. I have missed your updates so glad you are back and hopefully feeling a little better. Good luck!


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